I knew there was one thing I had to do during my trip to New Zealand: skydive.
New Zealand is well known for its extreme activities. Most people come to bungy jump off bridges ranging from 40 to over 100 metres high. I’ve never had any desire to bungy, but I have always wanted to jump out of a plane.
My desire to skydive started when I read a novel where the main character described the experience as freeing and euphoric. Really, who wouldn’t want to try something described like that?
Skydiving in New Zealand
There are dozens of places to skydive in New Zealand. From Taupo to Queensland to Frans Josef, kiwis are jumping out of planes.
I wasn’t sure where I wanted to do mine, so I asked my Kiwi Experience bus driver. He told me to do it as quickly as possible—not because he thought I’d back out, but because New Zealand’s weather is constantly changing. Skydives are often cancelled due to inclement weather. Since I’m only spending a day or two in each city, I can’t wait out weather.
So, when the first opportunity to skydive came, I signed up.
It was in Taupo, a city on the North Island of New Zealand. Taupo is well known for its skydiving. On a clear day, you can see both sides of the North Island from their highest jump.
My skydive was booked with Skydive Taupo, because they work with Kiwi Experience. With Skydive Taupo, you get the option to skydive from 12,000 ft or 15,000 ft. Although the higher height costs more, it gives you 15 more seconds of freefall (apparently freefall time is the biggest consideration, not that you’re an extra 3,000 ft from the ground!).
Taupo is also the cheapest place along the Kiwi Experience route to skydive.
I say cheap, but nothing in New Zealand is really cheap. Jumping out of a plane will cost you $279 NZD at 12,000ft or $359 NZD at 15,000 ft. If you want photos or a video, the price increases.
Skydive Taupo has a few options for getting evidence of your skydive. Photos cost $139 NZD. Getting a video from a Go Pro on your tandem partner’s hand costs $149 NZD. The company offers a package where you can get photos, the handheld video and 4 interviews for $160 to $180 NZD (varies depending on height).
For an enhanced experience, you can pay an extra $200 to $220 NZD (varies depending on height) to have a videographer jump with you. They will film your skydive from a camera on their helmet. This option means that you don’t get to film your time parachuting to the ground, but it gets a shot of your landing.
My Skydive: Skydive Taupo
Only 4 people from my bus decided to skydive in Taupo (the fourth night of our trip). We were picked up at midday and piled into a small van. I hadn’t expected it to happen so soon! I was woken from a nap on the bus and told to get ready to jump.
I was buzzing with anxiety and anticipation. It felt like I’d eaten a whole swarm of butterflies. Gnawing on a protein bar didn’t help settle them. I was going to jump out of a plane. What the hell was I thinking?!
I hadn’t even told my family I was about to skydive. I shot a quick text that probably worried my parents more than it settled them. My dad replied instantly: “Omg. Be careful.” My mom was jolted from a meeting by the news and sent a shocked “Oh my!! Have a wonderful time!!”
Our Skydive Taupo driver led us to a small seating area where he played some clips of previous skydives. They were supposed to show the different video options, but I was focused on the jumping out of a plane part. It looked like you quickly rolled off the edge of the plane then got to mug for the camera (and maybe scream an expletive or two).
It looked easy. What was I worried about? I could totally do this!
The anticipation was still coiled in my gut, but now it was more excitement than anxiety. I wanted to finish filling out forms so I could get on to the fun part: freefalling over the beautiful lake and snow-capped mountains of Taupo.
When the videos stopped, the sales pitch started. Of course, they’d try to convince us to jump from the higher height so they could make an extra $60 NZD. He said people always regretted not having more freefall time. If this was going to be our only skydive, did we want to risk that regret?
I’m a sucker for the regret speech. With that single word, I was convinced: I was going to skydive from 15,000 ft.
If I was going to pay an extra $80 NZD to go higher, I was going to need proof—even if it meant living on ramen for the rest of my trip.
I went with the handheld video and photo combo. Going higher also got me a free t-shirt so I could be a walking billboard for the rest of my trip.
If you choose the handheld video option, you get to pick three songs to play over the video of your skydive. That was probably the most difficult decision we had to make. They gave us four options for each part of the video: gearing up, the freefall and the parachute ride.
I chose Flo Rida’s “Wild Ones,” Swedish House Mafia’s “Don’t You Worry Child” and The Naked and Famous’ “Young Blood.”
My Skydive: Gearing Up
After a quick bathroom break (pissing your pants out of fear is apparently a real possibility, and not one they appreciate), I was ready to put on my gear.
First, I put on a blue jumpsuit that had seen better days. The woman helping me strapped a fanny pack with a life preserver inside around my waist. I was assured that water landings are an extremely rare and unplanned occurrence. Next, I stepped into a harness that looped around my legs and arms. It was a complicated mess of straps and clasps that looked like you’d need a degree in physics to understand. My tandem partner, Rhys, only had to yank four straps with practised ease. Suddenly, the harness fit snuggly and I was properly dressed to jump out of a plane.
Because I’d chosen to jump at 15,000 ft and the small plane wasn’t pressurized, I needed an oxygen mask. That was probably the most intimidating part; I don’t think I’ve ever worn an oxygen mask before.
Finally, she handed me a leather cap with a set of plastic goggles attached. I felt like a poor man’s Amelia Earhart in the get up. It definitely wasn’t an outfit I planned to rock regularly.
Rhys was an experienced skydiver who had been with Skydive Taupo for over 18 years. When I asked how many jumps he’d done, he paused and said “over 1200” with an easy certainty. How can you jump out of a plane over 1200 times?!
My Skydive: Taking Off
All too soon, we were getting in the plane. I wasn’t even sure if I was nervous anymore. I felt like I could handle the experience. People skydive every day; today I was just going to be one of them.
Four of us piled into a small pink plane with our tandem partners, a pilot and a videographer. We sat backwards on two long leather blocks as the plane took off. I forced myself to focus on the shrinking scenery to distract myself from what I was about to do.
The little plane took 15 minutes to reach 12,000 ft. Two of our group had opted for the smaller jump. I watched in semi-terror as they rolled out of sight the moment they left the plane. Somehow, my nerves were still manageable (seriously anxiety? I can’t walk down to the trash chute, but I can jump out of a plane?!).
Rhys fitted the oxygen mask over my face as we ascended. In minutes, he said, we’d be at 15,000 ft and I’d be skydiving.
My Skydive: The Jump
I was the last person of my group to skydive. Rhys scooted us to the edge of the plane with me strapped so tightly I couldn’t actually move on my own. My legs were dangling out the side of the plane with wind rushing past.
I expected to have a moment of doubt, to cry and beg to be taken safely to the ground.
Instead, Rhys made sure I had my head leaned back (“shape yourself like a banana,” they said. Honestly, there must be a better way to describe the position).
He gave me no warning before we were tumbling through the air, rushing 200km/hr towards the ground.
My Skydive: The Freefall
I didn’t look down for the first few moments. It was hard to look anywhere when there’s air rushing up at you with incredible force. Even moving my hands was difficult. My lips kept curling up and flapping with the pressure.
There were so many sensations I barely registered the view. I was mostly focused on the fact that I was finally doing it: I was skydiving!
I had expected to love every moment of it—at least, I’d expected that since my sudden burst of confidence in the Skydive Taupo office. While I did love the first 50 seconds, the last 10 seconds of my freefall were ruined by the pressure building in my ears to a painful point. I worried my head would burst. With the force of the freefall, it couldn’t manage to move my hands to my nose to pop my ears. It was nearly as bad as the time I’d flown with an ear infection.
The pain felt like it lasted an hour, but it was really just a few seconds.
Without any warning (that seemed to be his style), Rhys pulled our parachute. Rather than the rough jolt I’d expected, we smoothly slid to from horizontal to vertical as we slowed. And I could finally pop my ears!
I was too busy trying to pop my ears and keep my contacts from drying out in the wind to notice that Rhys was trying to film our third interview.
My Skydive: The Parachute Ride
Floating down in the parachute was my favourite part of my skydive.
I should have known I would love it. I loved parasailing in Jamaica. I was totally enthralled with hot air ballooning in Cappadocia. But I hadn’t considered that parachuting above the jewel blue Lake Taupo, lush green fields and peaks of mountains would be so wonderful. I mean, who could possibly enjoy floating above that?
I gaped at the landscape the whole way down, oohing and awwing as we floated with the clouds.
Rhys let me control of the parachute for a few minutes. It reminded me of when my dad used to let me “drive the car” as a kid; I got to have my hands on the wheel, but he was really in control. While Rhys was making sure we didn’t crash, I was having the time of my life.
I have a new goal now: learn how to parachute. Sorry mom and dad, I’ve got a taste for floating now!
My Skydive: Landing
Landing was a bit awkward. I had to stick my legs straight out as Rhys prepared us to hit the ground. It was more of a small bounce on my butt than the rough drag I’d anticipated.
There was really only one rough part: my skydive was over.
I couldn’t believe I’d done it. I had skydived from 15,000 ft in New Zealand!
There’s no better feeling than knowing you’ve accomplished something you’ve always dreamed of doing. The only negative was that I was so confident that I would love every second of the experience. Having even a few moments of pain annoyed me to no end. I later realized that I was starting to get sick, which was probably the reason the pain was so extreme. It was out of my control, but I nearly let it sour my whole skydive.
My dad telling me that I was brave knocked the disappointment away. He was right. I was incredibly proud of myself. I’d jumped out of a plane, just like I wanted to. It really was a life changing experience: both the skydive and realizing that I had been brave. Jumping out of a plane is hard. It’s ok that it wasn’t perfect. My first skydive will always be something I’m proud of.
As I write this, sitting in my “Skydive Taupo” free t-shirt in the River Valley, I can still feel the freezing rush of wind on my face. I can’t stop a smile from spreading across my face at the thought.
I’d definitely do another one, but not for a while – my bank account needs to heal first!
Watch my skydive:
What is something you’ve always wanted to do?